Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sony NEX-7 Review: Errors of an Armchair Quarterback

Red Riding. Kendra with NEX-7.

Being that much of my growth is derived more organically and less externally, I rely on a host of experiments and random events to provide me with fresh perspective. It's why you'll never hear me bemoaning not having enough "inspiration".

As I mentioned in a previous post, experimenting with the "What if..." game, shooting different models, and going to different places all help me mix things up.

And that's where the NEX-7 comes into play.

When I theoretically evaluated the NEX-7 based upon the specifications that could and would compare with the Nikon D3 (or any other DSLR) [fill in the blank with post], I admittedly overlooked a few key benefits. Sure, I looked at ISO performance, AF speed, buffer, lens choices, file size/megapixels, etc. and in each category I saw no such improvement that would warrant purchasing the NEX-7.

And in each of those categories, I stand by my original conclusion. The NEX-7 is slower to focus, slower to write, has less lenses to choose from, smaller buffer, higher noise per ISO, less intuitive user interface. The NEX-7 does better in megapixels, dynamic range, video performance (1080p/30fps), and portability. And I was wrong about using the live view. However to reiterate my thoughts on location shooting, my first and foremost limitation is getting the model to the location without attracting ridiculous amounts of attention. That is my limiting factor and not the size of the camera, dynamic range, or megapixels.

So in that respect the NEX-7 does not provide me with any significant advantage over any other camera. But in that respect no camera can provide such an advantage unless the camera could make my model (and myself) temporarily invisible. Or stop time. Or provide some other magical ability. So in fairness I shouldn't be comparing the NEX-7 to the D3 based upon improving that limiting factor.

I suppose that's the problem with armchair quarterbacking. Without actual practice/experience you can only argue based upon paper specs and other theories built upon weak assumptions. And that's coming from a guy that's strong with theory and assumptions. There's simply no replacement for displacement.

So what did I miss? What made me break my cardinal rule of "Solving Problems You Don't Have?" Well, one very simple and yet very important idea. While buying new toys/tools can't solve problems you don't have, it could very well solve problems you didn't know you had.

And that's what armchair quarterbacking can't do. It can't help you evaluate everything from all angles. It only allows you to evaluate based upon what you know and what you think you know. But you can't possibly fathom what you don't know. And there's a lot that we don't know.

And what I didn't know was how the NEX-7 would help me to see things differently. This is a result of the EVF and the live view display on the back.

While I display my images for review in B&W, the D3 (and every other DSLR's) optical viewfinder only shows reality. This means no B&W, no sepia, no vivid renditions of reality. This also means no live histogram. The benefit of the NEX-7 EVF (particularly displaying in B&W) is that this allows me to see the world differently prior to shooting. It's like what digital did to film. With film, you had to wait until long after the capture to see the image in its final state. With digital, you get that immediately after on camera back. Same with the EVF but better. You can evaluate the B&W image before you even shoot it. That is an eye opening experience.

Admittedly I'm not looking at the histogram in the EVF as much as I should but I'm glad it's there.

The second advantage that I couldn't foresee is the articulating display and shooting in "live view". I know live view isn't new. My Nikon D3100 had live view. Pretty sure the 7D does live view. And almost every digital mirrorless camera has to do live view. But for the same reason why I don't shoot stills on a tripod and I can't shoot video locked down on a steadicam, being able to see what the camera sees without my eyeball being glued to the viewfinder is priceless. For my most recent shoots, I've been shooting a lot more in live view and putting the camera where I would never have been able to set the D3 before. Being on a chair and then holding the camera several feet in the air over the model is something I couldn't do before. Shooting from as low as the floor is an angle I couldn't quite get before either. Seeing the preview on a larger display also provides me with a different perspective that I never had before.

And while the EVF and the live view display may seem trivial, to me it's worth more than what I paid for it ($+/-2,710 for the NEX-7, Zeiss 28mm, spare battery, SD cards, and hot shoe adapter). In fact it's worth more than all the other technological advances put together. Because you can't always buy a fresh perspective. You can hope for a fresh perspective when you buy new toys/tools but it's not always the case. Often you simply wind up repeating your old tricks on a new camera.

So that's the skinny. Almost a week and a half later I am fully adopting the NEX-7 as a supplemental tool to the arsenal. It is forcing me to reevaluate having my investments in the Nikon, Canon, and Hasselblad lines. But with tools, it's hard to let go sometimes because you never know when you'll need a change up in the perspective again!

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